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The Universal Qualities Of Chinese Cosmogony Essay, Research Paper

From every culture and every generation come myths, myths that discuss things such as the existence of a god, the purpose of the sun and the moon and most importantly creation and how we came to be on this earth. Creation myths not only contain an explanation for our existence but will also say or demonstrate something distinctive about the culture from which it originated in a way unique to that culture. Despite the differences in time of their creation and the cultures from which they come, all creation myths contain universal elements, elements that can be found in creation myths from around the world. Chinese Creation myths, though created in a remote area of the world and nearly lost during the Han dynasty, contain several universal ideas, including the idea of chaos and the cosmic egg, and also have helped to define the roles of the family in the Chinese culture.

Chinese myth contains three basic creation stories. One involves Yin and Yang, one revolves around the goddess Nu Kua, and one discusses P’an Ku in conjunction with the yin and yang. For our purposes we will use the story involving P’an Ku, the most universal of the myths. The character P’an Ku, meaning coiled antiquity, can be found in the story of Nu Kua and in the different variations of the yin and yang myth. His story can be read in Hsu Cheng’s San Wu li chi (Historical Records of the Three Sovereign Divinities and the Five Gods) and also Wu yun li-nien chi (A Chronicle of the Five Cycles of Time). This story has several variations, but the basic ideas remain the same. At the beginning, there was an egg inside of which was the entire universe, consisting of chaos and P’an Ku. He slept in the egg for 18,000 years after which he awoke and found himself in an egg surrounded by chaos. P’an Ku broke free and separated the heavens and the earth out of the chaos. The “light” parts of the egg, the yang, rose and formed the heavens while the “heavy” parts of the egg, the yin, sank and formed the earth (Shan 1). P’an Ku had to stand between them holding up the heavens to keep them from colliding with the earth. P’an Ku, held up the heavens and stood on the earth day after day. Each moved ten feet further away from the other every day as he grew ten feet everyday:

P’an Ku’s pushing caused the earth and the sky to move ten feet each day. And so it came to pass that, little by little, the earth sank lower and lower beneath the sky. And it came to pass that, little by little, the sky rose higher and higher above the earth. And the lower the earth sank, and the higher the heavens rose, the taller P’an Ku became (Rosenberg 328).

When the earth rested far below the heavens and the heavens far above the earth. P’an Ku realized that he was tired. So finally he sat down, went to sleep and died. After he died his breath turned into the winds and the clouds, his voice became the rolling thunder and lightening. One of his eyes became the sun, the other the moon. His head formed the mountains in the east while his feet formed the mountains in the west. His right arm became the mountains of the north while his left the mountains of the south. His torso became the mountains of the center. The flesh off his body became the soil and his fluids became the oceans and rivers. Veins, muscles, teeth and bones gave shape to the earth’s surface while from the hair from his body generated he plants. Finally the wind blew and all of the mites that had lived on his skin became the animals, fish and people. The legend of P’an Ku is the most widely known. His character is found in the story of the goddess Nu Kua and is often used in conjunction with stories of the yin and yang. This story not only contains many universal elements that give it a similarity to all creation myths but it also says a great deal about the structure of the Chinese family.

The universal idea of the egg can be found in many creation myths. The egg symbolizes a mother’s womb out of which life comes. The egg is “a symbol of the totality from which all creation comes” (Encyclopedia Britannica Online). This holds true in its use in the story of P’an Ku since from the egg came the creation of everything. The use of the egg in creation myths gives a very visual idea of creation; in your mind you can see the egg open, just like a mother’s womb, and from it life is born. The egg is sometimes referred to as cosmic, and from it comes not only new life, but also the beginning of life and the possibility of “a perfect creation” (Encyclopedia Britannica Online). The idea of the egg remains familiar to us in modern times. It still plays a large role in our idea of the creation and celebration of life as our celebration of Easter demonstrates. The Chinese creation story about P’an Ku contains this universal egg, giving it a universal element that makes it similar to the many creation myths such as those of the Japanese culture, Hindu tradition, the Buddhists and the Greeks and many others.

Another universal element is the presence of chaos. Chaos can be found in the creation ideas of Hesiod, Hyginus, Ovid and Aristophanes and the Bible. The modern meaning of the word chaos, as defined by Ovid, “original disordered and formless mass, from which the maker of the Cosmos produced the ordered universe” (Encyclopedia Britannica Online). The interpretation of the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis applied this very idea. The idea of chaos has always represented either the emptiness of the universe before the creation or thought to be tied in with the idea of the underworld. Both of these ideas can be found in the theologies of Hesiod. In the case of the myth of P’an Ku, the chaos represents the emptiness of the universe. The egg, the womb of creation, contained chaos and P’an Ku. Chaos, found in many creation myths, also gives Chinese Creation myths a connection to many other creation myths from around the world.

In the Chinese creation myths there exists a connection between the myth and culture through the family structure. The idea of the yin and yang supports the structure of the Chinese family. We are introduced to the idea of the roles yin and yang play early in the myth of P’an Ku. When P’an Ku escapes from the egg, one part sinks and the other part rises. Yin, the half that sinks, in Chinese culture is thought of as female and submissive in nature. Therefore, the females in Chinese culture also should be submissive in nature. Yang, the half that rises, in Chinese culture is thought of as male and the aggressive principal in nature. Therefore the men of their society also should be aggressive and thereby dominant in the family. These two ideas form the basic family structure in Chinese culture. Males remain the dominant and controlling one in the family, while the female must obey the males and basically be subservient. The limit of the power of the males in the family seems almost nonexistent. In some cases the sons will have more power than the mother does. The creation myth of P’an Ku demonstrates for us the distinctive and complex structure of the Chinese family.

The Chinese Creation Myth about P’an Ku has dozens of variations. The idea behind it helped to define Chinese culture and also the structure of the Chinese family. The Chinese Creation Myths throughout their thousands of years of existence survived a banishment from the culture of their orgin. Though their myths may not be considered as old and authentic or taken as seriously as other creation myths because of their banishment, it is a miracle that we have a collection of them whatsoever. However, they remain here today for us to learn from them and to reaffirm once again, that even in our ideas of creation, there are universal elements that help remind us of our similarities as human beings.

“The Tao is the One

from the one come yin and yang;

from these two, creative energy;

from energy, ten thousand things;

The forms of all creation

All life embodies the yin

And embraces the Yang

Through their union Achieving harmony.”

Tao Te Ching Ch. 42

Enclyclopedia Britannica Online. 12 October 2000. http://search.eb.com/bol/topic?eu=117208&sctn=6

Rosenberg, Donna. World Mythology: An Anthology of the Great Myths and Epics. Lincolnwood, Illinois. NTC Publishing Group: 1999.

Shan, Jun. 1998. 12 October 2000. http://chineseculture.about.com/culture/chineseculture/library/weekly/aa08209

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